Each day at practice, the first thing MSU's catchers do is what coach John Cohen calls "active warmups." They do footwork and practice tag plays in full gear. "Nobody in the country does that," Cohen said, and I'm not sure how you'd confirm or refute that claim. Point is, they work hard on such things.
So what happened Tuesday night was especially perplexing. On a base hit to right field by Ole Miss, MSU right fielder Luke Adkins makes a perfect throw to the plate to nail a runner runner by 20 feet, at least. But catcher Cody Freeman, an experienced junior, simply drops the ball. That made it 2-0 Rebels with one out, and another run – on a fly ball out – would score. Ole Miss would win, 5-3.
That play sort of typifies the way things have gone for the Bulldogs this season. Cohen believes his team's preparation is nonpareil, but execution is another matter.
"It's like we're getting hurt on the very things we work on the most," Cohen said. "Cody Freeman will catch that ball 999 times out of 1,000. I watch him do it every single day; I do. I'm standing right over his shoulder, and I watch him do it every single day. Big moment, big stage, Ole Miss, and he just drops the ball. And you can't get mad at him, I've seen him catch that same ball 1,000 times. The preparation's perfect.
"I think it's a little frustrating to our players, a little frustrating to our coaches."
It's a young team, to be sure. As has been duly noted, growing pains and frustrating moments are to be expected. Cohen thinks he knows the reason for some of the struggles.
"I really believe in some cases we're trying too hard, in every phase of the game we're trying too hard. A lot of coaches just let their kids play, and their preparation isn't off the charts. I think our preparation is off the charts, and in some ways I think it might be hurting us a little bit. We can't just let our kids play, because we have too many new components."
There is an upside to all this. As I'll examine in tomorrow's Daily Journal, Cohen believes his rebuilding process is right on track.
"I know where, when and how we're going to get to that tipping point to where we get back to the top of the Southeastern Conference," Cohen said.
Now for some other notes from my conversation with the coach.
• Freshman reliever Ben Bracewell, who's pretty well established himself as the closer, suffered a strained hamstring when warming up in the Ole Miss game. He'll travel with the team this weekend to South Carolina, but Cohen isn't sure if Bracewell will pitch.
"He just probably did not read his body as well as he should have, probably should've gotten stretched a little bit better," Cohen said. Bracewell was a four-year starting pitcher in high school.
• Cohen's unsure of who will start Sunday in place of injured sophomore left-hander Nick Routt. Freshman lefty Chad Girodo took the hill in the Georgia series finale and got touched for five runs (four earned) in three innings.
"A guy like Girodo, he's been so much better in relief, so we really don't want to start him," said Cohen. "It'll be a TBA type situation."
• I asked Cohen whether he thought the issues he's had of late with umpiring would come to a head at some point. After a lengthy pause, he said, "I'm not gonna comment about officiating. We're not supposed to do that. I truly don't believe anybody's out to get Mississippi State, ever. I don't ever believe that to be the case."
• Cohen's quickie scouting report on No. 12 South Carolina (20-5, 5-1 SEC): "They're exactly what any team in our league should be. They're very similar to Ole Miss, they're very similar to Alabama. They have older guys who know how to navigate at-bats in the Southeastern Conference."